Employee handbooks, employee manuals, procedure manuals, or whatever you want to call them, are generally considered a necessary evil by both business owners and the people who work for them. Employees will often look at them as something of an annoyance – especially if they tend to focus on the negatives, and aren’t clear, well-written, or specific to the business in question. A lot of employers, on the other hand, simply see it as a way to protect their assets. If you’re about to draft your first employee handbook, here are some handy tips.
Cut Out the Jargon
A lot of employers think that they can avoid any disputes with their workers by filling their employee handbooks with all kinds of legal terminology and small print-esque language. This is wrong! Labor and employment laws are very complex, and you’re not going to be able to squeeze in all the verbiage covering every possible legal issue that could come up at your business. The point here is to communicate policy to your employees, rather than legislating. While you should certainly cover some legalese in your handbook, try to keep it clear and accessible.
Set Clear Boundaries
It’s important to set out the boundaries between your employees and your company as early as possible. One of the first things on your list should be drafting a set of workplace policies, and then getting an attorney to give them the once-over. Obviously, in the early stages of any venture, your resources are going to be under a lot of strain, and paying out legal fees may not have been part of your short-term plan. However, getting legal counsel for your employee handbook is always a smart move. Aside from checking that you’re staying within the law, they’ll also be able to help you out with general advice, such as how you should be keeping records of employee performance, and what a good sickness absence policy will include. Whether you hire professional counsel or not, you should at least be setting clear policies and boundaries in your employee handbook, so that there’s no room for argument if and when someone breaches them.
Don’t be Orwellian
Every now and then, HR consultants will come across employee handbooks that are full of ridiculous, draconian rules. “No whispering” is one such rule. In situations where the employee handbook is longer than the business’s operational manual, and is brimming within all kinds of ridiculous Orwellian rules, employee morale drops severely, and which leads, in turn, to limited productivity. Of course, I understand the want to have control over every aspect of your business, and keep a disciplined workforce. However, there are limits to the kinds of rules you can integrate with your company policy, and still expect your workforce to play ball. Sure, you should have clear expectations, but don’t go overboard. With every new rule you’re planning to put in the employee handbook, take a moment to think about whether or not you really need it, and the kind of effect it’s going to have on employee morale.
Don’t Forget Digital Conduct
Today, more than ever, it’s important to address any digital security issues which could apply to your business. Take your time deciding who should have access to company passwords, and therefore valuable data, and have a strict procedure set out for people posting anything online on behalf of the company. Individual use of a business’s internet service has landed countless employers in hot water over the years, and I’m sure you don’t want to be one of them! Read up on the various digital risks facing businesses in your niche, and use these as guidelines for drafting your digital conduct policy.
Every good employee handbook should include a section that covers company ethics. One of the best ways to outline this kind of company policy is to write out a few narratives which will illustrate ethical issues and how they should be dealt with, especially when they pertain to the day to day operations of a business. Think of several situations which could be ethical gray areas to people who aren’t familiar with the company, and follow it up with a right way to deal with it, and a wrong way to deal with it. This should help your workforce to distinguish between what’s illegal and what’s simply unethical.
If you couldn’t make heads or tails of your employee handbook, I hope the points in this post makes the whole task easier to manage.